Paddy Mayne

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Robert Blair Mayne
Paddy Mayne near Kabrit, Egypt, in 1942
The Irish Lion
Born(1915-01-11)11 January 1915
Newtownards, County Down, Ireland
Died14 December 1955(1955-12-14) (aged 40)
Newtownards, County Down, Northern Ireland
AllegianceUnited Kingdom
Service/branchBritish Army
Years of service1939–1945
RankLieutenant Colonel
Commands held1st Special Air Service Regiment
Alma materQueen's University Belfast
Regent House Grammar School
Other workSecretary to the Law Society of Northern Ireland, lawyer, boxer

Lieutenant Colonel Robert Blair Mayne, DSO & Three Bars (11 January 1915 – 14 December 1955), better known as Paddy Mayne, was a British Army officer from Newtownards, capped for Ireland and the British and Irish Lions at rugby union, lawyer, amateur boxer, and a founding member of the Special Air Service (SAS).

During the course of the Second World War, Mayne became one of the British Army's most highly decorated soldiers.[1] He was controversially denied a Victoria Cross.

Early life and sporting achievements[edit]

Robert Blair "Paddy" Mayne was born in Newtownards, County Down, Ireland (now Northern Ireland), the sixth of seven children in a Protestant family. The Maynes were prominent landowners who owned several retail businesses in the town. He was named Robert Blair after a second cousin, who at the time of his birth was a British Army officer serving in the First World War. The family home, Mount Pleasant, is situated on the hills above Newtownards.[2]

Mayne attended Regent House Grammar School. It was there that his talent for rugby union became evident, and he played for the school 1st XV and also the local Ards RFC team from the age of 16. While at school he also played cricket and golf, and showed aptitude as a marksman in the rifle club. On leaving school he studied law at Queen's University Belfast, studying to become a solicitor.[3] While at university, Mayne was an officer cadet with the Queen's University, Belfast Contingent, Officers' Training Corps.[4]

While at university he took up boxing, becoming Irish Universities Heavyweight Champion in August 1936. He followed this by reaching the final of the British Universities Heavyweight Championship, but was beaten on points. With a handicap of 8, he won the Scrabo Golf Club President's Cup the next year.[5]

Mayne's first full Ireland rugby cap also came in 1937, in a match against Wales. After gaining five more caps for Ireland as a lock forward, Mayne was selected for the 1938 British Lions tour to South Africa. While the Lions lost the first test, a South African newspaper stated Mayne was "outstanding in a pack which gamely and untiringly stood up to the tremendous task". He played in seventeen of the twenty provincial matches and in all three tests.[6] On returning from South Africa, he joined Malone RFC in Belfast.[7]

While on tour in South Africa with the Lions in 1938, Mayne's rambunctious nature came to the fore, smashing up colleagues' hotel rooms, temporarily freeing a convict he had befriended and who was working on the construction of the Ellis Park Stadium, and also sneaking off from a formal dinner to go antelope hunting.[8]

In early 1939, Mayne graduated from Queen's and joined George Maclaine & Co in Belfast, having been articled to TCG Mackintosh for the five previous years. Mayne won praise during the three Ireland matches he played in 1939, with one report stating "Mayne, whose quiet almost ruthless efficiency is in direct contrast to O'Loughlin's exuberance, appears on the slow side, but he covers the ground at an extraordinary speed for a man of his build, as many a three quarter and full back have discovered."[9]

Second World War[edit]

Initial assignments[edit]

In March 1939, prior to the outbreak of the Second World War, Mayne had joined the Supplementary Reserve in Newtownards and received a commission in the Royal Artillery, being posted to 5 Light Anti-Aircraft Battery, in 8th Anti-Aircraft Regiment, later 8th (Belfast) Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment.[4] When the battery was assigned to 9th Anti-Aircraft Regiment (later 9th (Londonderry) Heavy AA Regiment) for overseas' service, Mayne was transferred out to 66th Light AA Regiment in Northern Ireland. Then, in April 1940, he was transferred again, this time to the Royal Ulster Rifles.[10]

Following Churchill's call to form a "butcher and bolt" raiding force following the Dunkirk evacuation, Mayne volunteered for the newly formed No. 11 (Scottish) Commando. He first saw action in June 1941 as a second-lieutenant with 11 Commando during the Syria–Lebanon Campaign. Mayne successfully led a section of men during the Battle of the Litani River in Lebanon against Vichy French Forces. The operation was commanded by Major Dick Pedder, Highland Light Infantry, who was killed in action. Mayne played a distinguished part in the raid, for which he was awarded a mention in despatches.[11]

Transfer to the SAS[edit]

Mayne's name was recommended to Captain David Stirling by his friend Lt. Eoin McGonigal, a fellow officer of No. 11 (Scottish) Commando, and an early volunteer for the Special Air Service (SAS); then known simply as the Parachute Unit. It is widely believed that Mayne was under arrest for hitting his commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Geoffrey Charles Tasker Keyes when Stirling met him. A hand-written entry in Keyes' personal diary states that he was not at the officer's mess of No. 11 (Scottish) Commando at Salamis on Cyprus on the evening of 21 June 1941, the date on which Mayne was accused of beating up a fellow officer, Major Charles Napier. Keyes had stayed the night elsewhere, and arrived at Salamis the following day, 22 June 1941, when the trouble was already over. Keyes states in his diary that he conducted an investigation and found Mayne responsible.[12]

Keyes' diary makes it clear that Mayne was brought before the divisional commander, Brigadier Rodwell, on 23 June, for assaulting Napier, the second-in-command of his battalion. Mayne had a grudge against Napier, who had not taken part in the Litani raid, and who, according to a serving member of 11 Commando, had shot Mayne's pet dog while Mayne had been away. Mayne was attached to his pet, and was furious about this.[13] Keyes' diary records that, on the evening of 21 June, after drinking heavily in the mess, Mayne waited by Napier's tent and assaulted him when he returned. Keyes also records in his diary that Mayne was dismissed from 11 Commando the following day, 23 June, but does not say that he was arrested.[14]

SAS – 1941 and 1942[edit]

From November 1941 through to the end of 1942, Mayne participated in many night raids deep behind enemy lines in the deserts of Egypt and Libya, where the SAS wrought havoc by destroying many enemy aircraft on the ground. Mayne pioneered the use of military jeeps to conduct surprise hit-and-run raids, particularly on Axis airfields. It was claimed that he had personally destroyed up to 100 aircraft.[15]

His first successful raid at Wadi Tamet on 14 December 1941, where aircraft and petrol dumps were destroyed, helped keep the SAS in existence, following the failure of the previous initial raid behind enemy lines. For his part in the Tamet raid Mayne was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO).[16] He also received a mention in despatches on 24 February 1942.[17]

Mayne's official report on the Tamet raid notes:[18]

The following damage was done on or in the vicinity of the aerodrome:

(a) Bombs were placed on 14 aircraft. (b) 10 aircraft were damaged by having instrument panels destroyed. (c) Bomb and petrol dumps were blown up. (d) Reconnaissance was made down to the seafront but only empty huts were found. (e) Several telephone poles were blown up.

(f) Some Italians were followed, and the hut they came out of was attacked by sub-machine gun and pistol fire and bombs were placed on and around it. There appeared to be roughly thirty inhabitants. Damage inflicted unknown.

Mayne took part in the most successful SAS raid of the desert war when, on the night of 26 July 1942, with eighteen armed jeeps, he and Stirling raided the Sidi Haneish Airfield. They avoided detection, destroyed up to 40 German aircraft and escaped with the loss of only three jeeps and two men killed.[19]

Commanding officer[edit]

Following Stirling's capture in January 1943, 1st SAS Regiment was reorganised into two separate parts, the Special Raiding Squadron (SRS) and the Special Boat Section (the forerunner of the Special Boat Service). As a major, Mayne was appointed to command the Special Raiding Squadron and led the unit in Sicily and Italy until the end of 1943. In Sicily, Mayne was awarded a Bar to his DSO.[20] The official citation reads as follows:

On 10 July 1943, Major Mayne carried out two successful operations, the first the capture of CD battery the outcome of which was vital to the safe landing of 13 Corps. By nightfall SRS had captured three additional batteries, 450 prisoners, as well as killing 200 to 300 Italians. The second operation was to capture and hold of the town of Augusta. The landing was carried out in daylight – a most hazardous combined operation. By the audacity displayed, the Italians were forced from their positions and masses of stores and equipment were saved from enemy demolition. In both these operations it was Major Mayne's courage, determination and superb leadership which proved the key to success. He personally led his men from landing craft in the face of heavy machine-gun fire. By this action, he succeeded in forcing his way to ground where it was possible to form up and sum up the enemy's defences.

In January 1944 Mayne was promoted to lieutenant colonel and appointed commanding officer of the re-formed 1st SAS Regiment. He subsequently led the SAS with great distinction through the final campaigns of the war in France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and Norway, often campaigning alongside local resistance fighters including the French Maquis. In recognition of his leadership and personal disregard for danger while in France, in which he trained and worked closely with the French Resistance, Mayne received the second Bar to his DSO.[21] The official citation stated:

Lt-Col. R.B.Mayne DSO has commanded 1 SAS Regiment throughout the period of operations in France. On 8 August 1944, he was dropped to Operation Houndsworth base, located west of Dijon, in order to co-ordinate and take charge of the available detachments of his Regiment and co-ordinate their activities with a major Airborne landing which was then envisaged near Paris. He then proceeded in a jeep in daylight to motor to the GAIN base making the complete journey in one day. On the approach of Allied Forces, he passed through the lines in his jeep to contact the American Forces and to lead back through the lines his detachment of twenty jeeps landed for Operation WALLACE. During the next few weeks, he successfully penetrated the German and American lines on four occasions in order to lead parties of reinforcements. It was entirely due to Lt-Col.Mayne's fine leadership and example, and his utter disregard for danger, that the unit was able to achieve such striking successes.

During the course of the war he became one of the British Army's most highly decorated soldiers and received the DSO with three Bars.[22]

Recommendation for the Victoria Cross[edit]

In April 1945, Mayne led two armoured jeep squadrons through the front lines toward Oldenburg in Operation Howard, the last one of its type in the war. He rescued his wounded men and eliminated a German machine-gun position in a local village. A citation, approved by Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, commander of the Allied 21st Army Group, was issued recommending Mayne for the Victoria Cross.[23]

The success of his mission to clear a path for the 4th Canadian (Armoured) Division and sow disorganisation among the enemy was due to his "brilliant military leadership and cool calculating courage" and a "single act of bravery" which "drove the enemy from a strongly held key village thereby breaking the crust of the enemy defences in the whole of this sector."[24] However, in a standard practice of the time, the award was downgraded to a lesser award, and Mayne instead received a third bar to the DSO (in other words, a fourth award of the DSO).[25]

Major General Sir Robert Laycock, Postwar Chief of Combined Operations, wrote:[26]

I feel I must drop you a line just to tell you how very deeply I appreciate the great honour of being able to address, as my friend, an officer who has succeeded in accomplishing the practically unprecedented task of collecting no less than four DSOs (I am informed that there is another such superman in the Royal Air Force). You deserve all the more, and in my opinion, the appropriate authorities do not really know their job. If they did they would have given you a VC as well. Please do not dream of answering this letter, which brings with it my sincerest admiration and a deep sense of honour in having, at one time, been associated with you.

Mayne's contemporaries questioned why he was not awarded a Victoria Cross. The matter came to a head when, after a public campaign, the issue of a posthumous award was brought before the UK Parliament. An Early Day Motion put before the House of Commons in June 2005 and supported by more than 100 MPs also stated that:

This House recognises the grave injustice meted out to Lt Col Paddy Mayne, of 1st SAS, who won the Victoria Cross at Oldenburg in North West Germany on 9th April 1945; notes that this was subsequently downgraded, some six months later, to a third bar DSO, that the citation had been clearly altered and that David Stirling, founder of the SAS has confirmed that there was considerable prejudice towards Mayne and that King George VI enquired why the Victoria Cross had 'so strangely eluded him'; further notes that on 14th December it will be 50 years since Col Mayne's untimely death, in a car accident, and this will be followed on 29th January 2006 by the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Royal Warrant to institute the Victoria Cross; and therefore calls upon the Government to mark these anniversaries by instructing the appropriate authorities to act without delay to reinstate the Victoria Cross given for exceptional personal courage and leadership of the highest order and to acknowledge that Mayne's actions on that day saved the lives of many men and greatly helped the allied advance on Berlin.[27]

The UK Government declined to re-open the case, though the Blair Mayne Association vowed to continue their campaign to have the Victoria Cross retrospectively awarded.[28]

After the war[edit]

Mayne's grave Movilla Abbey graveyard in Newtownards

In 1945 Mayne was recruited to the Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey as deputy to expedition leader Edward W. Bingham.[29][30] He visited the Falkland Islands, Deception Island and Port Lockroy.[29]

Mayne returned to Newtownards to work first as a solicitor and then as Secretary to the Law Society of Northern Ireland.[31] He suffered severe back pain which prevented him from even watching rugby as a spectator.[32] He rarely talked about his wartime service.[33]

On the night of Tuesday 13 December 1955, after attending a regular meeting of the Friendship Lodge, Mayne continued drinking with a masonic friend in the nearby town of Bangor, before making his way home in the early hours. At about 04:00 he was found dead in his Riley roadster in Mill Street, Newtownards, having reportedly collided with a farmer's vehicle.[34][32]

At his funeral hundreds of mourners turned out to pay their respects and to see him interred in a family plot in the town's old Movilla Abbey graveyard. After his death his masonic jewel was preserved for many years by an old schoolfriend before it was presented to Newtownards Borough Council where it was displayed in the Mayoral Chamber of the Council Offices. A road in the town was later named in his honour and in 1997 a statue was dedicated to him outside the town hall.[32]


During the 1938 Lions tour it is said that Mayne relaxed by "wrecking hotels and fighting dockers".[35]

Mayne is also described as growing increasingly withdrawn as the war progressed, preferring books to the company of friends. This tendency was said to have become more marked after the death of his father during the Second World War. Mayne was refused leave to attend the funeral and a story has him embarking on a drinking binge and rampage in central Cairo in an effort to find and beat up Richard Dimbleby.[36]


A less-than-lifesize bronze statue of Blair Mayne stands in Conway Square, Newtownards.[31] In 2003 a temporary British Army base in Kuwait, occupied by the first battalion of the Royal Irish Regiment, was named after him: Camp Blair Mayne. It was there that Lieutenant Colonel Tim Collins, 1 Battalion, the Royal Irish Regiment's commanding officer (himself a former SAS officer), gave his celebrated address to his troops on the eve of the 2003 invasion of Iraq.[37]

Mayne is depicted by Jack O'Connell in the 2022 BBC television historical drama SAS: Rogue Heroes.[38]

Honours and awards[edit]

Companion of the Distinguished Service Order and Three bars (DSO & 3 Bars) 24 February 1942
21 October 1943 (1st Bar)
29 March 1945 (2nd Bar)
11 October 1945 (3rd Bar)[39]
1939–45 Star [39]
Africa Star With '8th ARMY' clasp[39]
Italy Star [39]
France and Germany Star [39]
Defence Medal [39]
War Medal 1939–1945 with bronze oak leaf for Mentioned in Dispatches 24 February 1942 (MID)[39]
Officer of the Legion of Honour (France)[39]
Croix de guerre 1939–1945 (France)[39]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The Oxford Companion to World War II, Oxford University Press, 2001 paperback edition, ISBN 0198604467, 'Special Air Service'
  2. ^ Dillon, Martin; Bradford, Roy (2011). Rogue Warrior of the SAS: The Blair Mayne Legend. Mainstream Publishing. ISBN 978-1780573779.
  3. ^ Tudor, Malcolm (2018). SAS in Italy 1943-1945: Raiders in Enemy Territory. Fonthill Media. ISBN 978-1781556979.
  4. ^ a b "No. 34611". The London Gazette. 28 March 1939. pp. 2092–2093.
  5. ^ "Our Famous Member". Scrabo Golf Club. Retrieved 14 November 2022.
  6. ^ "Blair Mayne WW2 SAS Special Forces Newtownards". 12 July 2010. Archived from the original on 12 July 2010.
  7. ^ "Mayne, Robert Blair ('Paddy')". Dictionary of Irish Biography. Retrieved 14 November 2022.
  8. ^ Bull, Andy (15 June 2013). "A history of Lions tours: 'Drinking bouts, unpaid debts, girls in tears'". The Guardian. Retrieved 14 June 2014.
  9. ^ Ross, Hamish (2003). Paddy Mayne. Sutton. ISBN 0-7509-3943-5.
  10. ^ "No. 34830". The London Gazette (Supplement). 12 April 1940. pp. 2230–2231.
  11. ^ "Irish SAS Hero: Robert Blair "Paddy" Mayne". History.Net. 17 August 2021. Retrieved 14 November 2022.
  12. ^ Geoffrey Keyes personal diary, Lord Roger Keyes Papers
  13. ^ private letter to Michael Asher, uncorroborated
  14. ^ The Regiment by Michael Asher, Geoffrey Keyes Personal Diary, Lord Roger Keyes Papers
  15. ^ "'Paddy' Mayne: An Irish Lion". National Army Museum. Retrieved 14 November 2022.
  16. ^ "No. 35465". The London Gazette (Supplement). 20 February 1942. pp. 894–895.
  17. ^ "No. 35465". The London Gazette (Supplement). 20 February 1942. pp. 899–900.
  18. ^ "Six of the best from Colonel Paddy Mayne". Wartime NI. Retrieved 14 November 2022.
  19. ^ Syrett, David (19 August 2014). The Eyes of the Desert Rats: British Long-Range Reconnaissance Operations in the North African Desert 1940–43. Helion, Limited. p. 234. ISBN 978-1-912174-63-8.
  20. ^ "No. 36217". The London Gazette (Supplement). 19 October 1943. pp. 4661–4662.
  21. ^ "No. 37004". The London Gazette (Supplement). 27 March 1945. pp. 1709–1709.
  22. ^ "No. 37302". The London Gazette (Supplement). 9 October 1945. pp. 5004–5005.
  23. ^ "Paddy Mayne: The bravehearted Irish Lion who joined the SAS". The Irish Times. 2 June 2017. Retrieved 14 November 2022.
  24. ^ Halliday, Hugh Valour Reconsidered: Inquiries into The Victoria Cross (Robin Brass Studio Inc, Toronto, ON, 2006) Appendix E
  25. ^ Halliday, Hugh Valour Reconsidered: Inquiries into The Victoria Cross (Robin Brass Studio Inc, Toronto, ON, 2006) Halliday mentions several other downgraded VC nominations and discusses the changing standards and conditions of award of the VC over time, including many examples of VCs downgraded to lesser awards in the Second World War.
  26. ^ Scholey, Pete (2011). SAS Heroes: Remarkable Soldiers, Extraordinary Men. Bloomsbury Publishing. ISBN 978-1780962429.
  27. ^ "Early Day Motion 317: Lt Col Paddy Mayne". House of Commons. 14 July 2005. Retrieved 13 February 2017.
  28. ^ Halliday, Hugh Valour Reconsidered: Inquiries into The Victoria Cross (Robin Brass Studio Inc, Toronto, ON, 2006)
  29. ^ a b Cooper, Geoff (2021). "Re-discovering the Forgotten Fid". Antarctic Times (51). UK Antarctic Heritage Trust: 20–21.
  30. ^ "Interview with Edward Bingham". British Antarctic Oral History Project. Retrieved 8 July 2022.
  31. ^ a b "Blair Mayne Association". Web Archive. Archived from the original on 10 September 2011. Retrieved 20 September 2021.
  32. ^ a b c "Robert Blair Mayne". WartimeNI. Retrieved 3 May 2022.
  33. ^ "Lt Col. Robert Blair 'Paddy' Mayne DSO Freemason". Irish Masonic History and the Jewels of Irish Freemasonry. Retrieved 3 May 2022.
  34. ^ ""He will be remembered as the bravest man in history to never be awarded the Victoria Cross"". Lord Ashcroft. 14 November 2020. Retrieved 3 May 2022.
  35. ^ Peterkin, Tom (14 December 2005). "50 years after his death, maverick colonel may yet receive the VC". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 7 April 2008.
  36. ^ Ross, Hamish (2011). Paddy Mayne: Lt Col Blair 'Paddy' Mayne, 1 SAS Regiment. History Press. p. 89. ISBN 978-0752469652.
  37. ^ "Me and my health: retired British Army Colonel Tim Collins on his lifestyle". The Belfast Telegraph. 4 February 2020. Retrieved 14 November 2022.
  38. ^ Nicholson, Rebecca (30 October 2022). "SAS: Rogue Heroes review – is the follow up to Peaky Blinders fun? Does Arthur Shelby like a drink?". The Guardian. Retrieved 31 October 2022.
  39. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Mayne, Robert Blair "Paddy"". Traces of War. Retrieved 14 November 2022.

Further reading[edit]

  • Asher, Michael (2008). The Regiment: The Definitive Story of the SAS. Viking. ISBN 978-0670916337.
  • Bradford, Roy; Dillon, Martin (1987). Rogue Warrior of the S.A.S.: Lt.Col.Paddy Blair Mayne, D.S.O. John Murray Publishers. ISBN 978-0719544309.
  • Marrinan, Patrick (2013). Colonel Paddy: The Man Who Dared. Colourpoint Books. ISBN 978-1780730417.
  • McClean, Stewart (2005). SAS: The History of the Special Raiding Squadron "Paddy's Men". Spellmount. ISBN 978-1862272873.
  • Mortimer, Gavin (2004). Stirling's Men: The Inside History of the SAS in World War II. Orion. ISBN 978-0297847120.
  • O'Neill, John (2015). Legendary Warrior of the SAS - Robert Blair Mayne. Menin House. ISBN 978-1908336132.
  • Ross, Hamish (2003). Paddy Mayne: Lt Col Blair 'Paddy' Mayne, 1 SAS Regiment. Sutton Publishing. ISBN 978-0750934527.

External links[edit]